Jan 252019
 

If you are using the right kind of terminal that supports graphics inline (such as KiTTY), then you can write simple (or complex) tools that insert images into the terminal.

Being able to display the flag of a country (if you know its two-letter ISO code) is kind of trivial but useful if you need it.

And a shell function to do that is remarkably simple :-

function flag {
    wget -o /dev/null -O /var/tmp/flag.$$ http://flagpedia.net/data/flags/normal/${1}.png
    if [ $? -eq 0 ]
    then
        kitty +kitten icat /var/tmp/flag.$$ && rm /var/tmp/flag.$$
    else
        echo Not found
    fi
}

(that’s a Zsh function which may require adaption to Bash).

Jan 152019
 

Now that the click-bait is out of the way, vi movement keys are perfectly reasonable particularly to those who have been using them for decades (which includes me). But for ages, vi itself has supported the arrow keys for movement as well as the tradition cursor movement keys.

For the benefit of those who have not used vi and are wondering what those traditional cursor movement keys are, they are H (left), J (down), K (up), L (right). A bit like the gamer’s set of movement keys – W, A, S, and D, except that the vi movement keys pre-date arrow keys.

There are those who will claim that the traditional movement keys are more efficient as they require less hand movement. And they are. So it is perfectly understandable that many tiling window managers and other keyboard-centric software uses these movement keys.

But someone who hasn’t spend decades hard-wiring the vi movement keys into their brain, will find vi-style key bindings inscrutable. And the fix? Just use the arrow keys as well.

There is no harm in having two key sequences do the same thing; no harm in emphasising that the arrow keys work too. And indeed no harm encouraging the use of vi-style movement keys by emphasising their efficiency.

Don’t forget that someone learning a new tiling window manager (or most other things) can be put off by the silliest of things – such as inscrutable control keys.

Rusty Handrail
Sep 102018
 

If you have not heard, Steam have added a compatibility layer to Steam which allows a limited number of Windows games to run. The “compatibility layer” is in fact a fork of WINE called Proton.

Peered at from 500 metres away, Proton allows Windows software to run (or not infrequently crash and burn) by translating the Win32 API into Linux APIs, and translating the variety of graphics APIs into Vulkan. That is a really difficult thing to do.

I have taken a very quick look at the new Steam client (and “Proton” is no longer part of a beta release of the Steam client – it’s in the standard client). It works perfectly adequately, although you will have variable experiences running Windows software.

For some reason this news has captured the imagination of a number of ‘tubers who are more gamers than Linux users, which has lead to some misunderstanding :-

  1. This is not Linux gaming; it is Windows gaming under Linux. If you have a bad experience with Steam under Linux, you are not experiencing a bad time with Linux gaming. Linux gaming involves native Linux software, and yes there is some out there.
  2. Problems with Steam could well be down to the Proton compatibility layer with unsupported API calls or buggy usage of the Win32 API which relies on Windows behaving in a certain way for undefined parameters.
  3. In addition problems with Steam could be due to the hardware you are running; take a game that works perfectly fine with an Nvidia card. It may behave problematically with an AMD card or even a different Nvidia card. Or the other way around.

The important thing to remember when looking at videos about Steam is that the person looking at Steam may not be the most experienced Linux user out there. That is not necessarily bad – the whole purpose of Steam is to be able to run games easily without a whole lot of Linux experience.

But they may not be understanding properly what is going on – for example the first thing I would do as a professional game-orientated ‘tuber would be to try out a selection of games with an nvidia card, and then repeat using an AMD card – just to see if things work better, worse, or at least differently.

And again, this is not about Linux gaming but about allowing easy access to old Windows titles that someone may have bought in the past. 

Pentland Hills
Sep 082018
 

Having used Linux for well over 20 years (yes it is that old), and Unix before that, I’m often puzzled by how scary some people seem to find Linux. Why should it be scary? It’s just a computer – you’re the human in charge of it.

Yes There Are Gooeys

(graphical user interfaces – GUIs – gooeys)

Yes there is plenty of software with a graphical user interface – I use plenty on a daily basis including a standard web browser, an email client, a password manager, an office package.

On a slightly less frequent basis there are many more that I use. Indeed providing that you accept the use of alternatives, you can find Linux software to do just about anything.

But Don’t Ignore The Command-Line

Yes, Linux has a command-line, and for those of us familiar with it, it can be very powerful. And there is no harm in learning how to use the command-line just to the point where you can follow instructions on how to “get something done” there.

Because if I have a fix for some niggle that you are having, it is easier and less error-prone to pass instructions for a command-line incantation than instructions for a gooey (and yes I have done both).

The Birds

Aug 092018
 

Well that was a weird error; I recently discovered that ntpd had mysteriously stopped working; specifically it was not able to resolve NTP “pool” names :-

ntpd: error resolving pool europe.pool.ntp.org: Name or service not known (-2)

After some time spent blundering around down dead ends with the help of an appropriate search engine, I ended up resorting to strace. This is a tool most commonly used by developers but can be surprisingly useful for diagnosing system problems too.

As long as you can look past all the inscrutable output!

The strace tool runs a command and records every system call that the command calls together with the results. And of course most commands make zillions of system calls so you’re likely to end up with a huge output file.

To generate the output file, I ran the modern equivalent of ntpdate (ntpd -d) which tries to do the same thing using the actual NTP daemon. Usefully in this case because the command starts, configures itself (which is where the error occurs), and then exits (unlike the normal dæmon). It is important to redirect the output to have a file to trawl through later :-

strace ntpd -d > /var/tmp/ntpd.strace 2>&1

Once the output was generated, it was necessary to trawl through it to look for clues. The first thing was to search for “europe” (as I use europe.pool.ntp.org as one of my NTP servers). The first occurrence was the error claiming that the name didn’t exist :-

write(2, "error resolving pool europe.pool"..., 73error resolving pool europe.pool.ntp.org: Name or service not known (-2)

Which was somewhat odd because you would expect the string “europe” to occur within an instructable attempt resolve the name. Yet it appears as though the error occurs without any attempt to resolve the name!

As a bit of a guess I searched for “resolv.conf” which revealed :-

stat("/etc/resolv.conf", {st_mode=S_IFREG|0644, st_size=362, ...}) = 0
openat(AT_FDCWD, "/etc/resolv.conf", O_RDONLY|O_CLOEXEC) = -1 EACCES (Permission denied)

Apparently ntpd is unable to open the file due to a permissions problem!

Looking at my /etc/resolv.conf revealed an oddity dating back to when I tried configuring /etc/resolv.conf as a symbolic link to a file on a separate file system. The file itself was a symbolic link to /etc/resolv.conf.file.

For some reason ntpd didn’t like the symbolic link, which is a bit odd but changing it to an ordinary file fixed the problem.

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